Is healthy travel on your packing list for your next warm weather escape? Make sure you’re prepared for a safe trip with these tips from On Call’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Nathan:
1. Practice Good Food & Water Safety
When we picture ourselves soaking up the sun on an exotic island, it’s easy to forget that some of the most beautiful beaches in the world are in countries with limited resources. Plan accordingly by researching your destination before you leave (the CDC’s Destination Pages are a great place to start). If food and water safety are of particular concern in your destination, avoid drinking tap water and drinks with ice cubes. Use bottled water for brushing teeth, and keep your mouth closed while in the shower. You may also want to consider traveling with water purification tablets.
When it comes to food, in some areas, raw vegetables are especially risky – even when washed – since the water used to wash them can be contaminated. Avoid eating foods that have been sitting out for more than an hour (food goes bad quickly in warm climates!) and try to stay clear of undercooked meats and seafood – especially in a buffet situation – as the risks of bacterial contamination at buffets are extremely high.
2. Plan Ahead for Vaccines
Before you travel, check for recommended and required vaccines at your destination and make sure you’re up to date. Travel vaccine requirements vary; some need to be administered well in advance of travel dates and some, like the yellow fever vaccine, are only available in specific locations. See a travel health specialist or your regular provider at least a month before departure as they can help you get the needed vaccines and the medications you may need during your trip.
3. Drink Responsibly
Moderate your alcohol intake when you’re out in the sun. Drinking alcohol may increase skin sensitivity, making you more susceptible to sunburns. Alcohol and sun exposure both cause dehydration and heat injuries – alcohol makes you feel warmer and more likely to faint. Alcohol use can also impair judgement; and when you’re in or near water, this increases the risk of drowning and the risk of accidents. It’s best to pace your alcohol intake and make sure you’re drinking plenty of water or other hydrating drinks as well.
4. Be Cautious of Mosquitos
Mosquitoes spread several diseases such as malaria, dengue, chikungunya, and zika. Activities that put you at higher risk for mosquito bites include hiking, camping, and visiting forested areas. But there are steps you can take to prevent or lower the risk of bug bites while you’re traveling. Use an EPA-registered insect repellent- these usually have ingredients like DEET, Picaridin, and IR3535, and are safe and effective when used correctly. Wear long-sleeved, loose-fitting shirts and long pants. Wear socks and shoes to cover your ankles and feet. Treat clothing with permethrin, an insecticide that kills or repels insects. Keep mosquitoes out of your sleeping area by staying in places with air conditioning or intact window screens. Use a mosquito net (ideally one that was treated with permethrin) if you are outside or in a room without screens. Mosquitoes tend to be worst at dawn and dusk- avoid being outdoors at these times if you can.
5. Limit Direct Sun Exposure
The sun and UV rays can cause skin reactions that make for an uncomfortable vacation. Sun exposure causes sunburns and increases the risk of skin cancer. Sunburns are directly related to the amount of time spent in the sun, along with your skin type. Some people also develop an itchy sun rash after intense sun exposure, and some even develop hives from sun exposure. There are simple steps you can take to enjoy the sun and keep yourself protected. Always use sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 and re-apply sunscreen every 2-3 hours (these are general SPF guidelines; however, Dr. Nathan personally recommends at least an SPF of 30!). Wear a broad-brimmed hat to protect your face, neck, and ears and sunglasses to protect your eyes. Wear sun-protective clothing. Finally, the midday sun, particularly between the hours of 10 am to 4 pm, are when the sun’s rays are at their strongest. Many experts advise avoiding the sun at these times, but if that’s not completely feasible, just try your best to be extra cautious during these hours.
6. Wear Foot Protection
Shoes protect your feet and help prevent wounds and injuries from objects on the ground. Even on the beach, sharp shells can cause cuts and serious injuries to the bottom of your feet! Wearing flip flops in showers and bathtubs will help prevent slipping and falling as well as protect you from fungal infections like athlete’s foot. Comfortable shoes will also support your feet, making it easier to stand in lines and walk long distances during travel.
7. Be Careful Around Animals
When traveling, avoid petting or feeding animals. This can be a tough rule to follow, but in many areas with limited resources, pets aren’t always fully vaccinated and can transmit diseases. Not to mention, rabies is a legitimate concern, particularly when encountering stray animals and wild animals like monkeys. If one is bitten by an animal with rabies, it could be fatal if not treated properly. Additionally, animal licks and bites can cause bacterial infections that could need medical attention.
8. Plan for Emergencies
It’s always a good idea to travel with a small first aid kit that has some basic over the counter medicines. If you take medications regularly, take extra doses with you when you travel just in case you have delays getting home. And finally, know your local resources when you travel: the area pharmacy, the hospital, places you can get medical attention if you need it – it’s very important to remember that some of our favorite warm weather destinations could very well have limited medical and healthcare resources available to travelers. And finally, reach out to your emergency assistance company if you need help!
Want to Learn More?
For over 25 years, On Call International has provided fully-customized travel risk management and global assistance services protecting millions of travelers, their families, and their organizations. Contact us today to learn more. You can also stay in touch with On Call’s in-house risk management, travel health and security experts by signing up for our quarterly Travel Risk Management (TRM) newsletter.